Tragedy in the high desert

Wouldn’t you know it? The only manmade thing for miles claimed this teenage mare. She has taught us much from the study of her feet, so we’ll put them up for you, too. This was an interesting look into the hooves right after the snow melt, when they should be their worst. While we obviously never saw this mare move, we can only assume she had the perfect soundness as all of the other horses in the area. Her hooves definitely show the health and the miles of use.


The hooves are astonishing. They mirror the unbelievably abrasive terrain of the area. You can see and feel the raw functionality -- the total efficiency. The mustang rolls are more dramatic than any I have seen, and the hoof walls, soles, bars and frogs are obviously all sharing the load in the rugged terrain these hooves were forged on.


We had radiographs taken of this hoof, with a wire placed at the bottom of a collateral groove for the study of the collateral groove and its relationship with the ground and to the inner structures.


These hooves are simply breathtaking, and should be the goal --  the direction every domestic hoof is worked.


When studying these hooves, don’t think of them in terms of how they would stand on concrete. I trashed a nice pair of hiking boots here in my short visit. If the sole or the frog were slightly recessed they would still not be "passive" in the country they were forged to work in. They are not a contrast to Jaime Jackson’s specimens, but a rather nice complement. They have all of the solar depth that his do, but less "cup" in the soles, because they happen to be filled in thicker -- simply reflecting the needs of the individual and the "razor sharp" terrain. The primary thing that Jaime’s deeply concaved specimens and these have in common is that everything that casts a shadow is crushing rocks and bearing weight in this country.

You have to get your mind "off the concrete" to see these hooves. If you think the walls are passive, or that the frog is the only support at the heels, you need to take another look at the land these hooves came from. The same thinking applies to your horses at home as well!


There were only 205 laminae in this half. They seem much more massive than the ones we see in domestic cadavers. The solar papillae seem larger as well.


Hoof walls and soles almost an inch thick with an incredible mustang roll.


Dense fibrocartilage fills the digital cushions, not the lump of fat we see too often in domestic hooves. The "segmented" lateral cartilages raise questions, though. No amount of domestic hoof dissection can prepare you for trying to peel off one of these hoof capsules. The outer walls look so dry, brittle and hard, but they are like a coiled spring -- very much like the tread of a rubber tire. It takes great effort to bend them, but they snap back into place with no damage -- truly a remarkable substance to hold in your hand!

This is what you call a sensitive corium very well protected from the elements! Let this build on your horses at home.


Soft terrain wild horses?

Now I'll tell you about an experience we had in New Zealand that throws a wrench in the works of a lot of our previous thinking. We got the opportunity to visit a 25,000 acre ranch with a wild horse population. We arrived, and found the country to be very soft; there wasn't a rock in sight. Not only that, the land was lush and fertile, with bright green grass and even large stands of clover. The horses were unbelievably wild; we only had a half day to spend there and couldn't get within 1/4 mile of a horse in that time. They were very fit and moved beautifully. The only thing we came back with was video of the horses running away and photo's of the horses' tracks.

The land was covered with perfectly shaped horse tracks! Now my brain is reeling with questions. In such a fertile environment, with no rocks or firm footing at any time of year, how do these horses forge such perfect hooves? Granted, we didn't actually see a hoof, but we could have seen contraction, splits, flares, chipping or excess wall or bar length just from the tracks. We looked at hundreds of tracks and only saw perfection. We could even see the massive bevels of the mustang rolls, clearly identical to the desert feral hooves of the western U.S.

With numb brains, on the way out, we rode by the pastures that held the ranch horses; some of them were captured from the wild herds. Same grass, plenty of room to move and the same long, flared toes and splitting walls we see in domestic horses everywhere around the world. What are we doing to these animals? I always thought it was rich feed and the lack of movement on rocky terrain.

   I know this was a long way from being a scientific study. I did see enough to make me know we have a lot yet to learn, though. Three factors come to mind that explain how this is possible. First, the horses never eat grain or molasses. Second, in spite of the rich grass, they always know it will never run out and they can pick and choose what their body tells them they need. We tend to provide feast and famine to domestic horses, violating their anatomical need to constantly forage. This leads to horses overeating when food is present, ignoring their senses. Thirdly, I think we keep their hooves from adapting to proper growth rates by moving them from one terrain to another. This alone probably creates the greatest need for us to trim domestic hooves.


Barefoot endurance horses need to be constantly trimmed to combat excess growth. Ivy's barefoot carriage horse was the same way. Working 25 hours a week pulling heavy loads on hilly asphalt, he put out 1/2-inch of excess growth per week that had to be trimmed away. When he wasn't working, he lived in a soft pasture. I think he was growing 24 hours a day at a rate that he needed during his hardest work. The lack of wear in the pasture created all of the excess hoof wall production.


It is only a theory, but I think the constant, never changing terrain of these New Zealand wild horses allows them to adapt to an exact growth rate they need, with no excess. We can't provide this type of consistency and still use our horses, so we'll always have to trim them, but at least we can see here that we really don't need a desert to grow a perfect "desert feral hoof."

I wish I could draw more conclusions for you. This experience only left me with a hundred brand new questions. I thought I would share it with you, though, so you could ponder it with me.



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